With New York’s tobacco sales age raising from 18 to 21 this week, Albany County legislators are set to decide whether to prohibit the sale of most flavored tobacco products.
Local Law E would ban flavored tobacco and the smokeless variety delivered through a USB-charged electronic device. Democrat Paul Miller of the 32nd district in Guilderland is the bill’s prime sponsor: "It's to reduce the use of vaping and flavored tobacco products, particularly among youth. There's been an explosion in vaping among the youth in the area and we want to stop that."
Forty organizations, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the American Heart Association. are focusing on the Albany County Legislature in an attempt to curb what they say is an epidemic of youth addicted to nicotine. And it comes at a time when vaping illnesses and deaths are on the rise.
The American Cancer Society's Julie Hart says flavors entice kids to begin using flavored tobaccos. "27 percent of youth now report using e-cigarettes, so all the work we've done to fight tobacco use, we're really seeing tobacco companies are undermining all of that work that we've done. In addition, if you look at high-school seniors, the numbers are even higher. 37 percent of high school seniors in New York state report using electronic cigarettes."
Caitlin O'Brien is the Government Relations Director for the American Heart Association in New York State. "Flavors in e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, flavored tiparillos, flavored cigars, flavored tobacco products in general, have been, for a few years now, addicting youth to these products, and for decades now, addicting African-American communities disproportionately to white communities through targeted advertising of menthol cigarettes. So we know that if we can eliminate flavors in tobacco products we can prevent future generations of becoming addicted, and we can help reduce rates of respiratory diseases, heart disease, stroke, all chronic diseases that are tied to tobacco products."
Local Law E has floundered since its introduction in March. It's been revised several times, has been the subject of hearings and intense debate. New York Association of Convenience Stores president Jim Calvin spoke at Campus Mobil on Albany's Western Avenue Monday. "There's a bizarre exemption in Local Law E that would allow high-end tobacco shops to continue selling flavored cigars that are priced at $10 or more to blue bloods in Albany County, while banning convenience stores like this one from selling $3 cigars to blue-collar customers. Banning menthol cigarettes alone, under Local Law E, would cost Albany County upwards of$ 1 million a year in sales tax revenue, according to the county comptroller, which translates to $26 million a year in lost sales for Albany County retailers."
O'Brien says the law will dramatically remove tobacco products' appeal. "So when they go to the corner store, when they go into the gas station with their parents, they will not see these flavored products like Twinkie, Swedish Fish, Unicorn Poop. They don't see these products displayed at their eye level. They look like candy and they're meant to attract them. So this local law will get rid of that initial appeal and will make it so kids don't want to actually try these products."
O'Brien doesn't believe Local Law E would foster criminal activity such as bootleg sales on school campuses.
Rich Marianos is a retired assistant director with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He forecasts a booming black market if Local Law E is enacted. "Now our citizens and our kids will be going to a market that's much easier for them to obtain more harmful products with additives and things that are coming from China overseas on the street. What will happen now, as is happening in other cities, like Manhattan, you'll have tobacco dealers working with drug dealers because of higher user tobacco sales are."
Marianos says the loss of tobacco sales at convenience stores would likely force many to close, creating food deserts in some areas for people of limited means and those without transportation.
The vote is scheduled for Tuesday night.